PARIS (AP) – France coach Laurent Blanc described being drawn with world and European champion Spain in qualifying for the World Cup on Saturday as an ''extremely exciting'' opportunity for his players to test themselves against the best.
The draw in Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 tournament in Brazil pitted France, the 1998 champion, against Spain, Georgia, Belarus and Finland in the only group with five teams instead of six.
France was not among the top-seeded teams for the draw as it is only the 10th best European team, according to the FIFA world rankings.
''At least we won't receive the tag of favorite with the world champion and European champion in our group,'' Blanc told the French football federation's website. ''It's extremely exciting to compete with the best. It's through such matches that we can improve.''
''It'd be a lie to say that we're in an easy group. But we will focus on our task and France will take its chances as usual.''
Spain and France last met in the second round of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, with France winning 3-1 en route to the final. That remains their only World Cup encounter. In 30 matches between the nations, Spain has 13 wins and France 11, with six draws.
''Spain will definitely be our toughest opponent in the group,'' France coach Laurent Blanc said. ''But I have confidence in our team and the goal will be to advance in first place.''
FFF president Noel Le Graet called on the team to show it is the equal of Spain.
''It's an extremely difficult group,'' he said. ''Spain is the world champion. It's the best team, the one that currently plays the best football. We have time to improve, the qualifying starts in a year and a half. Therefore, French football can improve by then. For sure, we must narrow the gap with this team to be very competitive.''
Le Graet said France needs to continue its good form in qualifying for the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine to build momentum for its campaign to reach the 2014 event.
France tops Group D in Euro 2012 qualifying, a point ahead of second-place Belarus despite having played one game fewer. France lost to Belarus in a Euro 2012 qualifier last year
''We must absolutely qualify for the Euro,'' Le Graet said. ''There are four qualifiers left. The four upcoming matches will be the most important ones for French football.''
In Euro 2012 qualifying, France will visit Albania and Romania in September before hosting Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina the following month.